Climate Change on Dhaulagiri

High camp on Dhaulagiri at 25,000 feet

Kitty Calhoun, Co-Owner Chicks Climbing and Skiing,  at high camp on Dhaulagiri. Circa 1987. ©Calhoun Collection.

When telling stories, I often choose to focus on climate change and sustainability.

During a recent Instagram Live session, Brad Wertnz, of Boulders Rock Gym asked me to tell some stories for younger climbers who might not have the depth of experience to process the current times – both in terms of perspective and lessons learned.

Just like Covid-19, climate change sneaks up on us. We don’t recognize the significance until it’s well under way.

I first ran into the effects of climate change in 1987 when I tried to make the second ascent of the East Face of Dhaulagiri.

After months of dreaming, planning, traveling and climbing through icefall, we finally saw the East Face. But, where the ice should have been was only running water. I was devastated.  After much discussion, we decided to acclimatize by climbing the standard Northeast Ridge, and maybe the face would freeze in the meanwhile.

We had to get permission from the Japanese who had the permit for the Northeast Ridge.  They readily agreed if only we would help them break trail.

We were clipped into their fixed rope, pushing through deep snow when we stepped onto a wind slab. The wind slab broke and started to slide down the North Face, pulling us with it. One by one, the top seven anchors ripped until finally the last one held.

We fell nearly 400 feet.

Just like an expedition, Covid-19 teaches us that if we act together, we can overcome challenging problems.

After a re-group, we made it to the summit of Dhaulagiri a few days later. In the end, we were not able to climb the East Face. No one has since, and I believe it has seen its last ascent.

Today, stripped of accustomed luxuries due to the stay-at-home order, I’m reminded that my favorite expedition lesson is about voluntary simplicity. I really enjoy knowing what I can do without. Doing with less makes me feel free and renews my gratitude for what I do have.

On expeditions, we willingly go without. We put ourselves in discomfort, suffering hunger, cold and fear! But it’s a good trade because the things we get back are much greater­­––gratitude, humility and compassion.

Coincidentally, I believe the lessons of voluntary simplicity and the feelings of gratitude, humility and compassion are what our environment needs to recover from our short-term thinking, abuse and neglect.

One of the unexpected gifts that the Corona virus leaves in its wake for me is an increased desire to listen and to spend time with others. I feel power in being inextricably connected and how, together, we can overcome critical challenges.

As with the virus, the science says we can’t allow climatic conditions to get past the tipping point.  Get informed, and get ready to vote!

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